Borderlands 3 is Basically Better-Designed Borderlands 2

Gearbox Software’s much-anticipated Borderlands 3 gameplay event just ended. Clocking in at about 60 minutes, the presentation showed a lot of what we can expect from the game, which has the potential to be 2019’s most popular release. And, after seeing the game for an hour, it looks like… a better Borderlands 2. That’s certainly not a bad thing.

Today’s brand new gameplay trailer.

Visually, the environments look exactly how you’d expect. Just looking at screenshots, this doesn’t look like a game that has been in development for more than half a decade. However, it’s the new features, the design choices, and the scope of Borderlands 3 that appear to make it worth the wait.

The basic movement in Borderlands 3 shows a clear improvement. Walk speed, jumping, and sprinting all have a more natural pace to them. The jump looks much less floaty than previous games in the series. Gearbox showed off new traversal options as well, most notably a slide (sprint then crouch), and a mantling mechanic. These sorts of movement options should help the game feel more like a modern shooter. Judging by how positively games like Apex Legends, which adopted similar mechanics, have been with shooter fans, I predict returning Borderlands players will appreciate the change.

The presentation also revealed that many weapons in BL3 will have alternate firing modes. Alt-fire in a game that already has so many ridiculous gun concepts is huge, especially considering that it can double your toolset. They hinted at ideas like having a fire weapon that alt-fires ice damage, and showed a gun that could swap between corrosive and explosive at one point. One of the cooler ideas shown was basically a version of Resistance 2’s Bullseye rifle. The alt-fire tags a target, and after you switch back to normal fire, any shots will hit that target, regardless of where you’re aiming.

To be honest, I could go deep into how crazy some of these new gun options are, but that’s something any Borderlands fan would have expected from this game. I mean, they showed that some Tediore guns have legs in the first trailer. The real meat of this presentation was all the smart design choices throughout Borderlands 3.

The biggest improvements, in my view, are the new co-op ideas. They showcased a feature called “loot instancing”, which means all loot in co-op games will be appropriate for your own level. In their demo, a level 24 player joined a level 5 player. The lower-leveled person opened a chest to find a level 5 purple and a level 5 blue weapon. When the perspective swapped to the level 20 player, there was indeed a purple weapon and a blue weapon in that same spot, but they were entirely different weapons and they were level 24. So, the idea is not only will your drops only be available in your game (which prevents players from stealing loot), but they’ll be tailored to where you are with your character’s growth. Playing with players who aren’t as far as you are in the game will still contribute to your progression.

Along with that, Gearbox showed off enemy scaling. The level 24 player saw enemies close to their level, while their level 5 teammate saw enemies closer to level 5. This ensures all players in a co-op group will receive meaningful amounts of XP from kills. Additionally, each player’s damage output and damage taken are scaled appropriately. So your higher level friend won’t just hop into your game and mow down all your enemies in one shot, and enemies in their games won’t destroy you every hit. It’ll be balanced like you’re all the same level, all the time… That is, unless you turn all of this off. Borderlands 3 will also have a “classic mode” option, where none of these scaling or loot instancing features exist. They specifically stated this is ideal for people who just want to power level things. It’s like they thought of everything.

Gearbox debuted a handful of other great design changes for Borderlands 3, including stuff like a “lost and found” that will respawn guns you left on the ground once you make it back to Sanctuary 3, but the other huge upgrade for me was the skill tree. The older games gave each character one action skill and then three trees of abilities. This time around, you’ll still get three trees of abilities, but you’ll also have three action skills. As a result, the build options are now increased by an order of magnitude. There should be enough variety that people playing the same character in a co-op group can still have wildly different characters. You can only have one of your three action skills equipped at any time, unless you’re playing as Zane, who can equip two active skills at once.

I’ve expressed some slights issues with Borderlands 3 feeling a little too similar to the second game. I thought it would have been nice to see them take on a more online-focused approach and make something like a cross between this and The Division. Today’s presentation changed my mind. Gearbox has shown that there’s still plenty of room left to innovate in the “Diablo, but guns” genre. Borderlands 3 has so many cool new ideas, that it already gives me that “I can’t go back to the old game” feeling, and this one’s not even out yet.

Borderlands 3 releases on Xbox One, PS4, and PC September 13th. You can pre-order it now. The full gameplay reveal should be available here.

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